What Is A Sacrifice Bonsai Branch?

What Is A Sacrifice Bonsai Branch?

So one of the things that I was struggling with a few weeks back at the start of my bonsai journey was finding that the trunk of my tree was looking a little thin. I know the design I had in my head didn’t exactly match up to the way it was looking, luckily, I came across the idea of sacrificial bonsai branches. 

Sacrificial bonsai branches are tree branches you grow out of your tree to help strengthen the trunk, keep your bonsai under control, and add girth to your tree trunk. These sacrificial branches are grown for two to three years to help strengthen your plant, after which they are removed. 

So when should you grow out a sacrificial bonsai branch? And are there situations when you should avoid growing them? Keep reading to find out more!

Just a quick heads up, over the past three years of running Plantpaladin, hundreds of people have asked for product recommendations. As such, You can find my favorite indoor bonsai tree here (link takes you to Bonsaiboy), my favorite outdoor bonsai tree (link takes you to Bonsaiboy), or have a look at all the products I recommend here

What are sacrifice branches? 

Whilst a lot of us (myself included) thought we would be coming back from the garden center with a beautiful bonsai tree that needed very little work, the truth of the matter is that the art of bonsai takes a while to get good at. 

One of the most common problems bonsai users have is having trees with weak trunks or trees that just don’t have the design we are going after. 

Sacrifice branches, then, are a fantastic option to use at the start of growing and pruning your bonsai tree to ensure that the trunk of your tree will look healthy and that the overall design of your tree will look the way you want. 

To summarize then: 

  • Sacrifice branches are used in bonsai to add strength and girth to the trunk of your bonsai tree. 
  • This is used to help achieve a strong trunk essential for bonsai for tree health and aesthetic purposes. 
  • Sacrifice branches are usually grown directly out from the trunk of your tree. 
  • Sacrifice branches typically take a while to grow out and are nurtured over the space of a few years to get the most benefit. 
  • After the sacrifice branch has been grown out, it is removed (by cutting off), leaving you with a stronger trunk. 
Bonsai Sacrifice Branches Explained

Where should you grow out sacrifice branches? 

The best place to grow out sacrifice branches is any side branch on your tree, any branches on the back of your tree, or any branches on the bend of the trunk. This is because sacrifice branches can leave scars that will be easier to manage in these spots. 

That being said, where to grow sacrifice branches will depend on a few key factors, such as: 

  • The room you have available on your tree 
  • Where you will place your tree – if you are keeping your bonsai tree indoors in a tight space like a flat or an apartment, you will need to keep all of this into consideration) 
  • How big you would like your bonsai trunk to grow – if you don’t want as big a trunk, you can get away with a smaller sacrifice branch.  

It’s also worth noting that sacrifice branches will increase the trunk size from below where they are. If you have a sacrifice branch halfway up your tunk, only the bottom of that trunk will get bigger making it ideal for increasing taper. 

How long should your bonsai sacrifice branches be? 

Sacrifice branches should typically be grown for three to five years for best results. Leaving your sacrifice branch for longer than this will yield even thicker results. Leaving your sacrifice branch for less than one year is not advisable.  

Which branches should you use for Sacrifice branches? 

Ideally, you will want to use the slimmer-looking branches as your sacrifice branches. These are often less desirable to look at and will often not be missed when styling your bonsai, which typically uses thicker branches. 

It’s also important if you’re thinking of using a sacrifice branch that you do not let this get too out of hand so that it blocks light from the rest of the branches. 

Consider trimming any foliage in your sacrifice branch in the first thirty centimeters or so for best results. 

How do bonsai sacrifice branches work? 

Bonsai sacrifice branches work by allowing sacrifice branches to cause a blockage in the trunk of your tree. This blockage forces the tree to grow more into the trunk to support the sacrifice branch. Your tree will then, in turn, send more nutrients to this blockage, causing your trunk to grow bigger. 

What is a sacrifice bonsai branch infographic

Why would you use sacrifice branches? 

The main reason sacrifice branches are used is to strengthen the trunk of your tree. For more complex designs, a stronger trunk will be essential for tree health and aesthetics, so having a sacrifice branch will dramatically strengthen the trunk of your tree. 

What plant species do bonsai sacrifice branches work well with? 

Pine tree species work particularly well when using sacrifice branches. This is because they usually have thinner trunks requiring some degree of sacrifice branches to increase their size. 

Can you have multiple sacrifice branches? 

Growing out multiple sacrifice branches can be a fantastic way to grow and strengthen the trunk of your tree and add a taper to your plant more smoothly. 

The only downside to this growing out several sacrifice branches is that this can cause a lot of damage to your plant, taking a while to heal, so if this is your first time, it makes more sense to start by growing out one and take things from there. 

How to grow a sacrifice branch? 

To grow a sacrifice branch, leave the desired branch you want to grow out without pruning or adjusting too much. Ensure this branch is not stopping sunlight or causing shade on the other branches, and in a few years, you should have a stronger trunk.

My top picks for the gear you will need!

So like I mentioned earlier, over the past three years of running PlantPaladin, hundreds of people have asked me for my recommendations on the best bonsai gear on the market. 

Having spent thousands of dollars on bonsai items these past few years and tested at least 100 bonsai-specific products, I’ve listed my favorite products below – All of which I highly recommend and think you can get great value. 

They can purchase directly by clicking the link to take them to Amazon. 

Bonsai Tool Set: One of the significant challenges I’ve had is finding a toolset that was not only durable but didn’t break the bank. SOLIGT has recently developed a fantastic bonsai tool set that covers all the tools you need to trim, prune, and repot your trees. – You can grab it here

Complete Bonsai Set: Many of you will want to grow your bonsai trees entirely from scratch, but finding the varicose seeds, pots, and other items in one place can be challenging. Leaves and Sole then have created a complete bonsai set that I’ve personally used that ticks all the boxes. You can grab it here

Bonsai wire: The number of times I’ve run out of wire for my bonsai or purchased cheap bonsai wire that doesn’t do the job is embarrassing for me to admit. After a lot of trial and error, I found that using Hotop’s aluminum bonsai wire is one of the best options on the market. This can easily be used for both indoor and outdoor bonsai. You can grab it here.

This post was written by Fehed Nicass who has been passionate about bonsai for over 2 years. He currently resides in the Uk and works in sales.

Fehed Nicass

Fehed Nicass has been passionate about all things bonsai and botany focused for the past 3 years. What started out as a hobby has developed as a passion and he is now on a mission to teach and learn.

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